Reverb has got to be one of the most universally loved effects in the studio and on the stage. It is the reason why an orchestra sounds breathtaking in a theatre. A touch of reverb brings an instrument to life, adding natural sounding space that we’re all so familiar with.
Reverb is the decay of sound after the note played stops. In a large space with hard surfaces, the sound wave travels and bounces off the surfaces, creating a long, sustained echo. In a small space like your bedroom with items like curtains and sofas, the sound waves are quickly absorbed by these soft items and dies away rapidly.
Artists have always used reverb as a technical and creative tool. Here are some songs which show that reverb, whether natural or added in the studio, can be such a powerful tool in music production.
When The Levee Breaks – Led Zeppelin
A fine example of Jimmy Page’s recording prowess, the haunting, swampy sounding drums is the centrepiece of the track. John Bonham’s iconic drumkit was actually recorded in the hallway of a three story staircase at Headley Grange, a poorhouse converted into a rehearsal space for bands like Fleetwood Mac and Genesis.
Misirlou – Dick Dale
Ah, the 60s. Life’s a beach for the people of South California. Surf music was all the rage, and it was characterised by the electric guitar drenched in spring reverb of Fender amps, which emulated the sound of crashing waves. There’s no song more associated with the surf guitar tone than Dick Dale’s cover of Misirlou.
In The Air Tonight – Phil Collins
Punchy is not usually a term you’d associate with reverb. But listen carefully to the snare and the drums of this chart-topping hit and you’ll find a type of reverb that was new to the era – gated reverb. This unique sound was achieved in the studio by setting a very short decay time and enlisting the help of a noise gate.
Wicked Game – Chris Isaak
The reverb-laden guitar riff of Wicked Game – which featured in David Lynch’s 1989 movie Wild at Heart – served as a perfect compliment for Chris Isaak’s melancholic, brooding vocals. A simple spring reverb which was onboard a Fender Twin Reverb was all it took for guitarist James Calvin Wilsey to achieve the sound with this Stratocaster.
Sorrow – Pink Floyd
David Gilmour’s guitar intro is one of the most huge sounding lead lines you’ll hear. The part was recorded in the Los Angeles Sports Arena, with Gilmour’s rig being blasted through the venue’s massive sound system. What ensued was an expansive, cavernous tone which set the tone for the rest of the song.
Reverb is so much more versatile than they sound. Today with digital reverb a commonplace in the studio and on the stage, the options are endless!
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